Washington • Utah’s members of Congress are split on whether the United States should pull support for the Saudi Arabia-fueled war in Yemen that is blamed for tens of thousands of deaths.
Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. John Curtis spoke fervently about ending U.S. involvement in the civil war – a position at odds with President Donald Trump, who has defended Saudi leaders despite evidence, including from the CIA, that the crown prince directed the murder of a journalist who wrote for The Washington Post. Trump’s administration has said ending the U.S. role in Yemen could undermine the relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis were dispatched to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to thwart a Senate vote on legislation to end U.S. support, though the Senate voted 63-37 on a resolution calling for the United States to pull out.
Lee voted to end the United States' efforts to back the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen while Sen. Orrin Hatch voted against the bill. Lee singled out the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had been critical of Saudi leaders and was reportedly killed in a Saudi embassy in Turkey and dismembered at the behest of the Saudi kingdom.
“This is not an ally that deserves our support or military intervention on its behalf, especially when our own security is not itself on the line,” Lee said on the Senate floor. “On the contrary, to continue supporting them in this war would be bad diplomacy and undermine our very credibility.”
“It appears that our involvement in Yemen accomplishes no good at all – only harm, and serious consequential harm at that,” Lee added. “The situation in Yemen now poses a true humanitarian crisis. The country is on the brink of rampant disease and mass starvation. An estimated 15 million people don’t have access to clean water and sanitation, and 17 million don’t have access to food. More innocent lives are being lost every single day.”
Hatch said through a spokesman that while he has serious concerns about Saudi actions, it’s not enough to unravel a long-standing relationship with a country in a region where the United States needs allies.
"While Senator Hatch believes the vicious murder of Jamal Khashoggi warrants a response, he agrees with Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo that it must not come at the expense of critical alliances,” said spokesman Matt Whitlock. “The Senator voted against the Yemen resolution because he staunchly opposes that kind of withdrawal from the region under current circumstances."
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, took to the House floor on Thursday to rail against America’s continued involvement in the war, arguing that it only fuels resentment of the United States in the region.
“It will diminish U.S. security and undermine America’s moral authority and reputation as a champion of our foundational values such as human rights and civil liberties,” Curtis said. “In addition to the horrendous humanitarian cost in Yemen itself, it makes the entire region less secure and makes humanitarian disasters in the wider region more likely. But more importantly, what’s happening in Yemen is just simply wrong. It’s not in harmony with our values and, ironically, the very reason we want a strong ally in Saudi Arabia is to prevent this type of situation, not foster it.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, a fellow Utah Republican, said he's not sure Congress has authorized military action in Yemen but that he's not sure ending it will make anything better.
“Because of this, I've always been reluctant to expand our use of military there,” Stewart said. “But a human tragedy is unfolding before us because of the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. is in the best position to help end the conflict."
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, was unavailable to comment, her office said. Rep. Rob Bishop’s office didn’t respond to a question about his position.